James Rosario is a writer, filmmaker, and musician based in the Asheville, NC area. His record label, Bigger Boat Records, releases...
Directed by Richard Eyre
Reviewed by James Rosario on October 1, 2018
I was looking forward to an old-fashioned Grisham-esque courtroom drama. That’s not what I got, and I’m a little upset about it. Yes, the performances are good, but the story meanders between a marriage on the rocks, an unconvincing infatuation, glossed-over politics, and a smidgen of judicial excitement. This approach may have worked for the source material (a novel written by Ian McEwan), but falls flat when applied to a movie. In fact, I can imagine The Children Act as an engaging book, but something major was lost in the translation to film.
High Court Judge Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson) is set to rule on a case involving a 17-year-old Jehovah's Witness boy (Fionn Whitehead) who is refusing medical treatment for leukemia. Fiona takes her job very seriously - serious to the point that her marriage is falling apart, and she doesn’t even notice. Her husband (Stanley Tucci) announces one day that he’s off to have an affair, and leaves. Meanwhile, after visiting the sick boy in the hospital, a ruling is made, and life goes on.
That’s the first half of the film. The second half deals with the fallout of Fiona’s decision, and the aftermath of letting her husband leave. The first half has issues - it comes off like a random, mid-season episode of Law & Order - but the second half is worse. The Children Act, out of nowhere, turns into a melodramatic mishmash of teenage defiance and attempted emotional connections. None of it works very well and is, frankly, confusing. This is a film that wants to be a tear-jerker but lacks the necessary character depth to elicit any emotion from its audience.
As the main character, Fiona is given the most of the complexity that's mustered. Her outward persona is one of meticulous stoicism and aloof coldness - which is fine (when her husband announced his departure, I thought “good riddance!”) - but therein lies the problem. I see no reason for her to change. She’s good the way she is, making her arc ring untrue and forced. Her big change of heart isn't required, and her reconnection with her husband is a disappointment.
If you want to get down to it, there are three separate movies here - any one of which could easily work as separate pieces with the given cast and crew. The direction from Richard Eyre is right for this type of film, it's the story that's lacking. There’s nothing flashy about his cameras, but there is something down to Earth, simple, and very “British” in his style (which makes sense given his background in BBC productions). Thompson delivers what may have been a powerhouse performance with some modifications to the script and story. She’s good, but, she usually is. She manages to hold the scattered narrative together somehow, but she can’t save it all on her own.
The Children Act is now playing at GRAIL MOVIEHOUSE in Asheville.
For more film reviews, plus record reviews, podcasts, and more, please visit THE DAILY ORCA.
Find out how you can become a patron of James Rosario and The Daily Orca by visiting their PATREON page.